We are so excited to introduce you to today’s guest on OpenFrame: Judy Weiser, lecturer, author, photographer, and one of the earliest pioneers of PhotoTherapy and Therapeutic Photography. She is also the founder and director of the PhotoTherapy Center in Vancouver, Canada.
Judy started out as a therapist and photographer and stumbled upon the therapeutic use of photography almost by accident when exhibiting some of her work in a café. She used to observe people’s interpretations of her images and a seed was planted inside of her— people look at pictures you take and interpret them through their experiences, no matter what the original intention of the photographer was. That was a powerful discovery for therapeutic purposes.
We highly recommend you listen to this episode, as Judy’s life story is more than just fascinating.
Here are some highlights we've penned down from our discussion:
- Photography is a tool that can be used as an agent of change to improve people’s lives and well-being.
- PhotoTherapy is photo-based techniques used by mental health professionals to help people whom they work with, understand better the problems they deal with. Photos can help bring these issues to a conscious level.
- People look at pictures and interpret them through their own experiences. They can tell you stories about them, based on what they see in the photo, even though the photo is not about them at all.
- On the most basic level - we take photos to freeze a moment in time or remember something that is important to us. We all value different things, so asking someone to take photos as a therapy assignment is a great way of finding out how people feel about their environment.
- In therapy, the mental health professionals establish what they want the outcome to be, then integrate photography to help reach that outcome. They can also work with photos that don't exist, but the client wished existed. For example - the client doesn't have any family photos, and the mental health professional can ask which photo they miss (wish they had) the most, and ask them to sketch it.
- PhotoTherapy techniques can be defined by the 5 positions between you and a photograph:
- Photos taken of you
- Photos that you take
- Photos that you take of yourself / self-portraits
- Biographical photos: narratives, family photos
- Photo-projective process - every time you look at any of the above photos you are projecting what it means, why that photo was taken, etc.
- Therapeutic Photography is used by people who are not trained therapists. It can be divided into different branches. For example, Social Action Photography is when a group of people (refugees, prisoners, women with breast cancer, etc.) get together and share their stories through photography.
How can Photographers use this knowledge in their own work?
Here are some suggestions from Judy Weiser:
- Think about your client, instead of your own vision/idea for the photoshoot. What does your client want from their session? Why are they getting photos? How do they want to look and what do they want to see?
- If during the photoshoot the conversation gets deeper - how safe of a place do you create for your clients to open up? Sometimes the photoshoot or the discussions happening during the session can cause trauma, or can be difficult to navigate, it's good to remember that it's a delicate field and you are not a mental health professional.
If you're curious to learn more about Judy Weiser and her work, check these:
Judy Weiser, R.Psych., A.T.R. - Director, Photo Therapy Centre
Phone: 604-202-3431 (Canada)
Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/PhotoTherapy.and.Therapeutic.Photography
Online courses (sign up to get notified): https://bit.ly/3nuWmPB
The conversation with Judy Weiser and Nadia Meli is also available on Youtube and via all popular streaming platforms - Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor. Subscribe, listen and share this episode with a friend who would find it inspiring!